Joe Gibbs Racing Busch Series Crew Chief Reflects On 2001
Tim Shutt, records a strong rookie season as crew chief for Mike McLaughlin
Take a brand new crew chief, a solid but unsponsored Busch Series team and add a veteran driver to the mix just ten days before the first race. Chances are you may end up with confusion and a lack of communication. Not so for the # 18 NASCAR Busch Series team. The team, under the leadership of first year crew chief Tim Shutt came out of the box in Daytona strong, racing in the second position most of the race before finishing in sixth place.
The season continued on with Mike McLaughlin winning his first race since 1998 at the ninth stop of the year in Talladega, AL. The win also set NASCAR history, as Tim Shutt became the first African-American crew chief to win in a major series in the modern era of NASCAR.
After a string of bad racing luck through the summer and the addition of MBNA as the sponsor following Milwaukee, the team regrouped and began a strong run to the finish line. With one race to go, the team has a chance to climb as high as fifth in the NASCAR Busch Series points race.
Crew Chief Tim Shutt sat down to reflect on the 2001 season.
Q. You are about to complete your first season as a crew chief, how would you grade your performance?
A . I feel like I have made more mistakes this year than I have in my entire career due to the lack of experience as a crew chef. However, with a strong race team behind me, everything has worked out well. The guys have worked so hard and Mike has done a great job. Overall I guess once the season is over I will look back on the season and be proud of what we accomplished.
Q. What was the biggest highlight of the year?
A. Naturally the Talladega win was really special for me and the entire team. The one single thing I am happiest about though is that the same group of guys we started out the year with are all here as we close the year and will be back for next season. Either I did something right or didn't do enough things wrong and they all stood by me. Building chemistry is so important in this series.
Q. What was the biggest surprise of the year?
A. I was really surprised by the amount of time a crew chief has to spend on things that have nothing to do with going faster. Budget meetings, personnel meetings, and more, they are all a big part of the job of crew chief. Last year all my time was spent on working on the car, now I have a great group of guys to do the work when I am tied up with other important things.
Q. Is there one single decision that stands out that you would like the chance to do over?
A. We made a mistake not going to Watkins Glen and testing. Mike had like seven straight top-five finishes there and we didn't give him a car capable of making it eight straight. It was disappointing, but there were plenty of highlights to make up for that.
Q. With the win in Talladega you became the first African-American to win a NASCAR race as a crew chief in the modern era, talk about that?
A. Once we win again, I think it will make that win more special. I am determined to win a lot more races and prove that the Talladega win wasn't a fluke. I guess once I get older, the win will mean more to me, but right now my focus is on simply winning races and helping to give more minorities the chance to succeed in NASCAR.
Q. Mike came on board with 10 days before the start of the season, what did that do to the team?
A. The whole offseason was very tough for us, we lost a sponsor, lost the driver from last year and had no clue as to who was going to drive the car two weeks before Daytona. The team showed their character though and stuck together. Adding Mike was a great decision, he stepped right in to our program and we never missed a beat.
Q. How did it help your development as a crew chief with Mike being a veteran driver?
A. Mike's experience was a huge plus for everyone on our team. Being a rookie crew chief, I knew when I made mistakes, that Mike and the guys would be there to pick me up. He provided great feedback all year long, making it a lot of fun to be at the track. Simply put, Mike knows what it takes to make a car go faster.
Q. Looking to the offseason, what areas will you focus on?
A. We are going to be busy refining what we learned about the racecars this year. Hopefully we can put the chassis and aero package together with a great motor program and contend for the title next year. We will have a busy offseason, but that hard work will pay off next year.
Q. Have you thought about any goals for the 2002 racing season?
A. Realistically our goals will be to become more consistent next year and contend for more race wins. We will need to reduce the DNF's to zero if possible and eliminate mechanical failures completely.
If we can do all those things we will contend for the 2002 Championship.
Q. Any offseason plans away from racing?
A. I am going to take the first real vacation of my life and relax a little bit. Take some time to reflect and get recharged for next season.
Q. Thanks and good luck in Miami.